New Zealand lies in the
south-west Pacific Ocean, 1,600 km east of Australia. It is made up of the
North and South Islands and a number of smaller islands, with a total land
area of 268,000 sq km
New Zealand is the most geographically isolated of all countries. Its
closest neighbour, Australia, is 2,000 km to the northwest of the main
islands across the Tasman Sea. The only landmass to the south is Antarctica,
and to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Because of this
geographical isolation, New Zealand was one of the last parts of the world
to be occupied by humans. In contrast to Australia, the people considered to
be indigenous, the Māori, only arrived themselves from Polynesia around
1300AD, just a few hundred years before settlement by Europeans. A good
place to start to understand the history of conflict between Māori and
Europeans is the Waitangi Treaty House in the Bay of Islands (open from 9am
daily except Christmas Day).
The country has a high standard of living with GDP per capita estimated at
The population now is mostly of European descent, with Māori being the
Where to go and what to see in North Island:
The North Island is where Māori culture is most visible, and if you visit
Rotorua, 230km (130 miles) south of Auckland, you can
combine an introduction to the indigenous people with an experience of the
geothermal activity of hot mud pools and geysers at Whakarewarewa village.
(Ironically, the tourist attraction of geothermal sights and smells has also
had its downside in terms of natural disaster: in 2011 and 2012
Christchurch, on South Island, suffered a series of big earthquakes that
destroyed over 1,000 buildings, including the magnificent cathedral, in the
most European-style city in New Zealand.)
Napier is an attractive art deco city which owes its
architectural beauty to an earthquake in 1931, which resulted in a complete
re-build in the fashionable architecture of the period.
Wellington, the second largest city after Auckland, is the
The Bay of Islands, in the extreme north of North Island, is magical for
boating and sea fishing. Take the “Cream Trip” excursion to visit some of
The South Island is the largest land mass, and is divided along its length
by the Southern Alps. The dramatic and varied landscape of New Zealand has
made it a popular location for the production of television programmes and
films, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Where to go and what to see in South Island:
Marlborough, the principal wine region of New Zealand, is
the first area you pass through after crossing from North Island. There are
plenty of wine tours and tastings on offer.
For whale and dolphin watching, head for Kaikoura on the east coast.
Queenstown is the place for extreme sports like bungy
jumping and white-water rafting.
Arthur’s Pass, (elevation 920 metres) is accessible by train or car, and
offers superb walks and a visitor centre.
The two glaciers on the west side are Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier.
Further to the south west are two fiords which could be the highlight of any
visit to South Island, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound.
Abel Tasman National Park in the north east offers a
stunning coastline with opportunities for walking, kayaking and camping.
Tourist tips: most visitors land in Auckland and hire a car
to drive to Wellington, but if you can do it the other way round you may get
a cheaper rate as you are returning a car to where it is needed.
Secondly, if you are driving round both islands, most rental companies
require you to leave your car at the port in North Island, take the ferry
with your luggage and pick up a new car in South Island. Only a few
companies allow you to keep the same car throughout your trip on both
islands, which is much better.